McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

July 16, 2013

McAlester native organizes benefit wrestling show

By Matt Goisman
Sports Writer

McALESTER — Bryanna Baker, a 21-year-old McAlester High School graduate now living in Oklahoma City, grew up around professional and semi-professional wrestling rings. Her father, Robby “Striker” Baker, started wrestling in 1998, and Bryanna quickly became a mainstay at her dad’s wrestling matches.

“There were some days I’d miss school because I’d be on the road with him,” she said Saturday. “All over Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Kansas, anywhere and everywhere on the road with him.

“It was so cool to be like, ‘That’s my dad in there doing this.’ ... I never missed a show.”

Bryanna so loved her father’s world that she wanted to do it professionally herself. Though she works at KinderCare in Oklahoma City, on the weekend she’s a ring announcer and valet for Impact Zone Wrestling in Lawton, and she’s started training to become a wrestler herself.

“You can do cardio your entire life, you get in that ring and you’ll be out of breath within a minute,” Baker said. “It’s very tough. It’s not for everybody.”

When Bryanna wrestles, she goes by the name “AnnaLynn Storm.” “AnnaLynn” comes from her first and middle names, but “Storm” comes from her father, who often walked on to music from AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” and whose name often appeared with lightning bolts around it.

Bryanna basing her name on her father completes a neat circle within her family. She said it was she and her brother Joe, now 22 and an aspiring pro wrestler himself, who gave their father his state name.

“When I was 5 or 6, Dad was finishing up training, he was told to think of a name,” Baker said. “My dad couldn’t think of anything, and he said, ‘One day, I was sitting in the bedroom, laying in bed, just sitting there trying to think. You ran in there ... and you were like “Striker! We know what to call you! Striker.”’

“It’s kind of turned into like a family thing.”

Bryanna said pro wrestling is a unique combination of real athleticism and strength mixed with some level of theatricality. The showmanship, she said, is one of the reasons too many people write the sport off as “fake,” but those who actually wrestle know how real it is.

Bryanna said the physicality of wrestling has always been the more challenging part for her, as she’s watched so many wrestling matches in her life that the acting side of it comes easily. She added she’s also had to “prove herself” as a female wrestler, as pro wrestling is still a male-dominated sport.

“There’s a girl at IZW that I work with, and she’s tough,” Baker said. “I wouldn’t mess with her in real life or the ring. She’s better than most people in that locker room, and a lot of time she doesn’t get the time of day because she is a girl, which makes a lot of people very angry.”

The biggest influence on Bryanna’s style of wrestling? Her dad, of course.

“When I first started to run the ropes, from watching my dad do it so many times, I ran the ropes exactly like him, and it was the hardest habit for me to break,” she said.

“Striker” isn’t currently wrestling, having suffered serious burns on 15 percent of his body when his lawnmower exploded on May 19. To help cover medical expenses, his daughter organized a wrestling fundraiser that took place Saturday night at the Al J. Horton Special Event Center in McAlester.

Bryanna served as ring announcer for the fundraiser, while Joe competed under his stage name “Maddux Jones” against another wrestler named O’Malley. Two other matches also took place.

Three Texas-based wrestling promoters from the National Wrestling Alliance — NWA Top of Texas, NWA Texoma and NWA Old School Wrestlers — donated the ring and the wrestlers, with IZW and some other local promoters also participating. Though free to the public, any concession or merchandise sales went to the Bakers, as did any donations.

“Just the generosity, the way that people just come together to do this for my dad and the family, that’s just amazing,” Bryanna said.

“Wrestling, they take care of their own. They support one another. It’s like a brotherhood. A lot of people I consider like second dads to me, uncles, aunts.”

This is the second wrestling benefit held for “Striker” Baker in McAlester. The first took place in 2011 and drew in several hundred spectators, right before he underwent surgery to remove a cancer that had infected most of his kidneys.

“Striker” survived the surgery and the cancer has yet to return, though Bryanna said he’ll need to remain cancer-free for five more years before he can be officially declared as such. Instead of cancer, “Striker” now battles pleurisy, an inflammation of the lining of the lungs that resulted from the burns.

Once “Striker” recovers, Bryanna said he’ll resume wrestling.

“He’s wanting in as soon as possible,” Baker said. “Of course, it might not be December before he can do that, but it’s not going to stop him. Nothing’s going to stop him. Wrestling is what he loves.”

Saturday’s benefit was the first of three planned for “Striker” Baker. An IZW-sponsored event will take place Aug. 17 in Lawton, and a Mid South Wrestling Alliance event will take place Aug. 25 in Midwest city.

Contact Matt Goisman at mgoisman@mcalesternews.com.